New Coronavirus strain

A new strain of COVID-19 was reported in Dec. 2020 to the news media. It raised many questions, including, Will vaccines still work? Is this new variation more contagious? Are there different things we need to do to keep each other safe now?

New virus strains occur when there is a mutation to the virus’s genes. Vice-Chair of Medicine for Data Integrity and Analytics Stuart Ray M.D., says it’s the nature of RNA viruses, such as the coronavirus, to change and evolve gradually over a period of time.

“Geographic separation tends to result in genetically distinct strains,” Ray said.

Mutations in viruses such as COVID are neither new nor unexpected as all viruses mutate over time- some more than others. 

In this new strain, there are about 23 genetic changes and some preliminary suggestions suggest it is more contagious. Although not proven, scientists are noticing surges of cases in areas where the new strain is appearing and wonder if this could be the reason.

Mutation in this new strain seems to affect the coronavirus’ spike proteins. These proteins help attach the virus to human cells in the nose and other parts and invade the body.

Researchers want to see whether this new strain is more ‘sticky’ to human cells but currently, nothing is proven until further studies reveal more.